RogerBW's Blog

A Shield Against the Darkness, Todd Downing 16 April 2020

2012 historical fantasy short novel, first in the Airship Daedalus series. In a somewhat alternate 1925, ace pilot Jack McGraw is going to lead the hunt for Aleister Crowley's agents of chaos. (Released free of charge by the author.)

It's not clear just which part of this universe came first, though I think it's the comic series A.E.G.I.S. Tales. There certainly also exist a radio series, a role-playing game Airship Daedalus: Retro Pulp Adventure Roleplaying, and this, the first of four (so far) novels.

In the introduction, Downing explains that this was actually written after the second novel, and indeed there's some feeling of "pilot episode" about it; characters are carefully introduced one by one and the basics of their backstory explained, until we've worked up to an effective pulp team (the pilot, the doctor, the sharpshooter, the engineer and the "munitions man"). Yes, of course one of them (and only one) is A Girl, and of course she's the doctor that being the closest thing in the list to a female-coded job, and of course she has a Past with Jackā€¦ but she's also the team's magician, because this is a world with hidden magic in it, something that everyone accepts with remarkable ease.

Also great big airships, of course. And a smaller one, the Daedalus of the title, with a perpetual-motion engine and a crew of just these five player characters, I mean bold heroes.

Jack led the way, carefully leading with his twin pistols.

Of course if one knows much about Crowley it's a little challenging to picture him as the leader of a world-spanning conspiracy with fanatical agents everywhere, who conveniently dissolve when they're killed or knocked out. (And where did he get the airship full of proto-Nazis?) But the world is so obviously set up in order to allow our heroes to gallivant across the world and punch bad guys in the face that trying to take it seriously feels like not reading it as the author intended.

It's a little Crimson Skies (though the fixed-wing aircraft are all real), a little Order of the Air, and quite a lot of scavenger hunt. It feels like support material for other people to write stories like this much more than it is a story in its own right.

Which isn't to say I may not read the next one.

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See also:
Lost Things, Melissa Scott and Jo Graham

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